Had Airplane! been set in the present day, Captain Oveur might have asked Joey if he preferred prison movies to those about gladiators. The rise of the incarceration industry has seen a spike in films about burly men alternately bonding with/beating each other up behind bars, and Ric Roman Waugh's Shot Caller is a pitiless yet unusually forthright genre entry.
Like Waugh's recent efforts (Felon, Snitch), Shot Caller finds an Everydad running afoul of the criminal justice system. A DUI manslaughter conviction sends stockbroker Jacob Harlon (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to prison for seven years, where his introduction to life behind bars is about as pleasant as expected. After witnessing the fate awaiting the unaffiliated, Harlon joins the Aryan Brotherhood. Before you can say "Amerikaner Me," he's dabbling in drug running and murder, earning the name "Money" and a trip to maximum lockup to meet Aryan grand poohbah "The Beast" (Holt McCallany).
Flashing back and forth between Harlon's prison rebirth and a present-day plot that finds a paroled "Money" setting up an arms deal with the Mexican Mafia, Shot Caller depicts its world with the matter-of-fact brutality of The Shield or End of Watch, only (mostly) from the criminals' perspective. A strong supporting cast includes Omari Hardwick, Lake Bell and Jon Bernthal, continuing his streak of portraying slightly unhinged badasses with a knack for betrayal.
But Shot Caller is Coster-Waldau's show, and he's up to the task. Harlon's transition is a depressingly plausible one, as his new cost-benefit analysis forces him to distance himself from wife and son. And perhaps the most chilling aspect of Waugh's film is how suited the former white collar bro is to the 'banger life.